John looks down from a rooftop, from a balcony, from a bridge, from a window, and thinks about falling. John puts a bullet in his father’s gun and the gun to his head and pulls the trigger. John empties a gasoline can on himself and throws a lighter to a madman.
He dreams about being back on the bridge with Alice sometimes, her with a knife while he only has his coat—the coat won’t protect him from the blade. Down in the water, it will only weigh him down to drown.
From his house he takes: the truly horrible Christmas sweater Zoe knit him two years into their marriage; the postcards Alice sent him; the David Bowie record Jenny gave him; the housewarming plant Mark gave him; his father’s medals. He digs into the closet until he finds a stack of photos he remembers putting there months ago; digs into the photos until he finds one, taken at Schenk’s surprise birthday party. Justin’s a little drunk, and he’s half-leaning on John so he doesn’t fall over. John’s laughing. It’s the only picture of Justin he has.
Alice is there, standing by the window, watching the road. She doesn’t mock him for his sensibility. Not much, anyway.
“I was waiting,” he tells her. “I tried not to think too much about it, but I was waiting.”
“For what?” she asks, not because she doesn’t know—she does, like he knew why she came back—or because she needs him to say it, because she doesn’t. For parallels and theatrics, he thinks.
“For you,” he says, for parallels and theatrics. “Jenny moved with a friend to the States. She’s safe, you know? So I thought… I thought Justin was ready. To take my job. I thought he would do fine. I thought he would do great.”
She gives him a look, a bit sympathetic but mostly impatient—an are you still on that look. She rolls out a map on his kitchen table.
“Close your eyes and pick somewhere,” she says. He wonders how disgruntled she is that he doesn’t have a globe to spin, or even darts to throw at the map.
“That easy?” he asks. She grins.
She’s the tempting serpent, she’s Lilith; she’s the moment he let Madsen fall.
“That easy,” she confirms. He closes his eyes and puts his finger on the map.
He’s always thought he’d rather have eaten the apple of knowledge, anyway.
“I want to devour you,” she says, in the dark of the night, in broad daylight in a Parisian café. “I want to eat your heart.”
He dreams of Justin every night. This, he knows from experience—from haunting crime scenes photos, from the still-warm bodies of victims he didn’t get to in times, from the memory of Zoe bleeding out in his arms—this will pass.
Everything happens for a reason, his mother used to say; every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, said his physics teachers; sometimes shit just happens—the drunk guy at the pub he took Zoe to on their first date.
“John?” Alice calls from the bed.
She switches on the small lamp on the nightstand and her face is flooded with light.
Looking at her makes him feel the way looking at crime scenes did: focused, obsessed even, looking for that one clue that would crack the case wide open; he wants to crack her wide open.
“Do you ever regret it? Killing your parents?” he asks impulsively. He’s never been able to let sleeping dogs lie.
She gives him a look like he should know better, but then her expression grows pensive. “Do you know,” she says, “there was this one recipe of my mother that I never thought to ask her for, and try as I might to replicate it, it always seems to have something missing.”
She looks far away for a second, but then she shakes her head and she’s back here, with him, just within reach.
“Is that all you wanted to know?” she asks, not mocking but teasing.
She loves him. Sometimes it’s the only thing that has any meaning and sometimes he struggles to understand what that means for her, what that says about him. Does he make her better or does she make him worse? Is it both? Is the trade off worth it?
Where does it end, what happens when she has all the answers—when she has all of him? Once she knows what makes him tick, is she going to set the timer off to blow and step away to watch the world burn?
“Come back to bed, John,” she says.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, the saying goes, and they are no longer enemies but he still wants to keep her close to his chest, as close as can be.
There’s a murder in their hotel in Palermo.
By the time it’s all over, there’s eight more dead, fourteen arrests, the mafia has put a hit on their heads, and John would rather no one mentioned the ducks.
It’s the middle of the night and they’re slow-dancing to Heroes just because they can.
She puts her palm flat over his chest, over his telltale heart which stutters at her touch. She smiles, her teeth looking very bright in the semi-obscurity, and very sharp. “Do I scare you?” she asks.
And the guns shot above our heads, Bowie sings.
“No,” he answers truthfully.
Her smile widens; more teeth.
It’s late when she comes home—back.
It’s different from when he was married to Zoe and he worried when she didn’t come home that something had happened to her; now he worries Alice has happened to someone else.
“Where were you?” he asks, trying not to feel like an overbearing husband from the 60s.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she asks playfully, taking off her coat. She looks soft and small and toothless—deceptively so. Then she looks over her shoulder and meets his eye, and it’s not that the illusion shatters as much as he can simply see behind it now, the amused glint in her eyes, the practiced way she moves, the strength and deceit coiled tight behind her every gesture.
“Did you kill someone?”
“No one anyone would miss,” she says, watching him, testing him. Always testing him.
Is she just playing or is she telling the truth? Does he care?
He runs his eyes over her body (looking for a rip in her clothes, for the bulge of a weapon). He takes her hands and draws her to him (so she can’t pull a knife on him). He takes off her sweater, unzips her jeans (looking for bloodstains, for a defensive wound, for a murder weapon). He nuzzles into her neck, into her hands (inhaling for gunpowder, for chloroform, for body-dissolving lye).
He kisses her (to—).
She kisses back like she’s trying to suck the soul right out of his body, like she’s trying to get at everything he has and take it with her. He wants her to, he does.
“I was suffocating there,” he says one evening. Alice has talked him into a con and they’re in the hotel’s most expensive room; the sheets feel heavenly against his skin.
He means: you were right. He means: I couldn’t breathe.
She settles over his lap smoothly.
“And now?” she asks. He thumbs at the tiny scar above her hip—a butcher in Palmas who stored his victims in the freezer in his shop.
“Now I can breathe,” he says. Her eyes glitter as she watches him. She snatches the pillow from under his head and holds it to her chest.
“Now I’m the only one who gets to choke you,” she says and when she presses her hand to his throat he lets her.
They track a human trafficking network in Prague.
They get the women and children out of the building, Alice disturbingly better at comforting them with her false warmth than John is with his genuine awkwardness, and then they bar the doors. He lets her douse everything in gasoline and he lets her light the match and they stand and watch it all burn.
Dirty cops in Philadelphia. A couple of serial killers in Port-au-Prince. Dog-fighting ring in Peru. They play chess and they eat fugu; when he has nightmares she tells him about black holes and stardust and supernovas until he falls back asleep. They get through the Ps.
He calls Jenny form a burner phone every two weeks.
“You sound different,” she tells him, a couple of months after he’s left London.
“Good different?” he asks.
She thinks about it for a minute. “Yeah,” she says eventually, and then repeats it with more conviction: “Yeah, good different. Better. I like it.”
Alice kicked him out of their room to study building plans—he bet her she wouldn’t be able to steal that one diamond without tripping any alarm. Unsurprisingly, she’s extremely competitive.
“I like it too,” he says, and he can feel her smile from across the ocean.
Sometimes she brings him somewhere and says, “Someone died here,” and he solves it. Sometimes all the people involved are long dead and gone and it’s fun and carefree and they smile into each other’s mouth when they find the answer.
Sometimes the blood has barely been washed off the floor and it’s still a game but one he has to pretend to feel guilty about, even though he feels it less and less as the months go by.
Once, there’s a sharp slant to her smile and it takes him three days to realize she was the one who did it.
He feels bruised all over, like someone put him in a washing machine with a bag of rocks for an hour or two, and then took a bat to him.
He lies down on the bed with great difficulty and a good deal of grunting. He stares at the cracks in the ceiling. He’s never leaving this bed again. He’s certainly never going after a gang of murdering drug-smuggling bodybuilders ever again.
Alice comes into view, leaning over him, her own bruises and cuts stark against her skin. She drops a hot water bottle on his chest—it falls somewhere it hurts, because it hurts everywhere—and gingerly settles into bed next to him. (They have sides of the bed now. He takes the side closest to the door and she pretends she doesn’t care either way, but when the door is to the left of the bed, it’s a run to see who goes to bed first and snatches the left side.)
“I should have ripped their nails out,” she mutters darkly, scooting closer to him. He hums—about all he has the energy to do.
“Should have yanked their eyeballs out,” she adds, nuzzling her head into his arm, and he falls asleep as she lists out all the ways she should have made them suffer.
She’s looking out the window, down at the people milling about in the street.
When John was younger, there was this kid in the neighbourhood who liked to look at the anthill in the park. He’d give it a kick sometimes, and right before he did he looked at the ants the way Alice looks at the people outside now—like some lower form of being that he’s not particularly inclined to destroy but likes to watch struggle. He was different from the kids who liked to throw rocks at stray cats; he didn’t seem to do it because he liked to hurt the ants, or because it made him feel strong; his cruelty wasn’t the purpose but the by-product: he simply did things just to see what would happen.
It’s not about good and evil with Alice; she doesn’t kill out of sadism or compulsion. It’s some warped spirit of scientific inquiry, it’s boredom and it’s ego, it’s her mind growing restless and wondering—What would happen if I did that? What will happen if I do this?
The truth is, he likes the way her mind works. He likes playing chess against her, likes solving crimes with her. However much she wants to slip under his skin and figure out how he works, he wants to do it back just as much.
He joins her at the window and she takes his hand—not sentimentality but possessiveness.
John looks down at the ground, and thinks about flying.
London calls him back, of course.
“I won’t stay away long,” he says, as close to I’ll come back to you as either of them can bear to get.
She smiles indulgently.
“Of course you won’t. And if you do, I’ll come and get you,” she says, both a threat and a promise. They seal it with a kiss.
She takes him to swim with the sharks, after he comes back.